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Unrealistic Stress or Manageable Pressure?

Tuesday 19th Aug 2014 - Kate Hodkinson

Stress and Pressure – two words which are often used interchangeably, yet they have very different meanings and consequently need to be dealt with in different ways.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) take the lead in the UK on workplace stress and treat it as a health, safety and welfare at work issue. They produce management Standards for tackling workplace stress and monitor the statistics nationally. Their latest report for the 2011/12 year reported the number of cases of work related stress as 428,000 almost 40% of the total number of work related illnesses. The levels of stress from the health and social care sector were among the top four highest with nurses and teachers featuring very highly.

The main causes of work related pressure and stress were identified as being the same as when the Management Standards were introduced in 2008 including:

  • Lack of management support
  • Work related violence and bullying

A survey earlier this year by Medeconomics clarified the figure of reported stress in Practice Managers. Over 95% reported an increase in workload complexity over the last year with 90% of respondents saying this has increased their level of stress at work and 79% saying that they has increased the hours that they work to keep pace with their workload.

This is a worrying trend for two main reasons:

  • Managers will leave resulting in skills gaps and problems with continuity of service delivery. Practices thrive best when they have a stable, well motivated team who know what they are doing.
  • If managers continue to work under increasing levels of stress, they become less efficient and less effective. Team members often leave due to the problems of working for inconsistent  and panic prone managers

Tackling stress at work makes very good business sense – especially for practices that value their staff as their main asset and want to ensure that they can work to their maximum capacity.

Pressure or Stress

The first step to managing the situation effectively is to identify the problem. Stress and pressure do have significant meanings in this content.

Pressure is a positive aspect of life and work for most people. Many of us need to have standards, targets and deadlines to push us towards good performance. Pressure is what I feel as the need to perform - and everyone has an optimum level of pressure that brings about their best performance. It can be seen as pressure when I feel that it is achievable. I might have to work hard, take some risks, challenge myself, change or accept new things – but it is manageable. I feel a level of control over the situation.

Stress, on the other hand, occurs when I no longer feel in control. That what is being demanded of me is not management no matter how organised, effective or efficient I become.

The Importance of the Manager

Good management is the key to an effectively business. The HSE cite the following among their main causes of workplace stress:

  • Unrealistic work demands
  • Lack of control over aspects of work
  • Poor working relationships
  • Unclear roles
  • Lack of managerial support
  • In effective communication over change

All of which a clear examples of poor management – which often begins to occur when the manager moved from being under manageable pressure to feeling out of control with stress.

So a lot rests with the ability of the manager to recognise their own levels of pressure and take action when it begins to get out of control. There are some important yet simple strategies managers can adopt to reduce the negative impact of stress on themselves and their team:

  • Positive thinking – a key tip is to listen to what your mind talks about. If you are constantly hearing negative thoughts such as “I can’t” “it’s too much” “there just isn’t enough “. Too many negative thoughts can start to lead to believing these things. They need to be replaced by more positive yet realistic thoughts. When you reach the end of a very tough day – always take time to think of at least one positive thing that has happened and make that your final work thought of the day.
  • Keep things in perspective. No one can completely control their surroundings or their circumstances. But you can control how you respond to them. Traffic that is surely going to delay you getting to a meeting on time is out of your control. Keep your response in perspective. Think about what you can do  - “pull over and ring the organiser to let them know; spend the time preparing what you want to say at the meeting;  if you are going to miss it plan how you will communicate what you need to in an email”
  • Try not to keep asking yourself “what if ...” because this often leads to negative thoughts. If you do start doing this make sure you balance “what’s the worst that can happen?” with “and what’s the best that can happen?” If you like the second option more, work out what you might do to make that the more likely outcome.

Many people say that they work better under pressure – which is probably true for most people. Yet we all need to be aware of where positive aspects of pressure tip over into stress and start to reduce your capability as a manager. Teams need a positive manager who is in control and performing well. Stress is one thing that will hamper your ability to perform, so make sure you watch out for signs of stress in yourself as well as in the team members.

How can we help?

Thornfields, the primary care training specialists, offers a variety of courses for managers or their teams on managing pressures and stress at work. The managing pressures at work course allows delegates to balance the positive impact of pressure with the negative impact of stress which is a major concern to every employer - this thought provoking course will equip delegates with the skills they need to contribute effectively at work. The course features both short term and long term stress management techniques as well as ways to change the way people behave when pressure hits high levels.

For more information on this course and other Thornfields courses view our full workshop list here. If you wish to discuss this in more depth please contact thornfields@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk or call us on 0333 240 4055

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